Shiloh seized the pushpin on the bulletin board and pressed it through the envelope carefully. She stepped back and surveyed the envelope that situated itself on the full board, between a lost cat flier and a petition. It seemed to fit well among the odds and ends of various papers, like it belonged there. The cursive address on the front was the only thing that set it apart.
Dungbombs and Chocolate.
Yet, deep boiling fear made her want to run forward and protectively pull it off. Strange, it was the second letter and she already knew that Fred and George would be respective to it, but those same strangling fears that had gone along with the first letter were still there. She felt like she was, through that letter, being put on display, poked and prodded. And what if they didn't like what they found?
“Don't worry, Shiloh,” Symone said, as though glimpsing her thoughts. “You were brilliant in finding out their names. They'll see that.”
“Maybe,” replied Shiloh, non-committally. And maybe not.
It had taken her days to pen out the letter, because she had been striving for perfection. She had wanted to say everything right, and the time that took was surprising. Even what she should sign it had been difficult. 'Yours truly' was too frilly. 'Your friend' was too casual. So in the end, she had signed it simply Shadow.
She had reread the letter so many times that she now had it memorized by heart.
Dear Dungbombs and Chocolate,
You have issued a challenge and I mean to meet it. I have spent a great deal of time contemplating the proper answer. Now, however, I believe I have it right.
Fred is Dungbombs. George is Chocolate.
At that point, she had been absolutely dumbfounded at what she should write. Should she explain how she knew, though the only explanation she could offer would give her away? She shuddered at the thought.
She had gone to Symone for advice, and though she was entirely amused by how Shiloh had found out (“You always seem to stumble onto answers, don't you?” she'd said, laughingly.), Symone thought that she should just leave them to marvel.
Shiloh had followed her advice and left one subject for another.
I will be keeping an eye on the bulletin, just in case you have any other challenges or if you need any more help on your inventions. Until then.
It was strange that something so short had cost her so much time and wasted paper, but it had. And now, there was a mixture of fear and satisfaction that she had finished and delivered it. There was nothing to be done, though.
So, taking a deep breath, she turned and walked away, Symone at her side. One thing was done. Now if only Shiloh could find a way to be alone so she could take up searching the old newspapers in the library. But Jacob's rule 'of never going anywhere alone' was still in affect. Being only with Symone was pushing the boundaries of it. Despite the rule, Shiloh was still working on plans to escape alone for a few hours.
Shiloh and Symone travelled in comfortable silence, until they had reached the common room. Almost instantly, Persephone, who was sharing an over-sized armchair with Nicolette and Valiant was calling their names and summoning them over. Valiant and Persephone were sucking on a lollipop contentedly while Nicolette was frowning at a wet, blood-red lolly of her own.
“They do actually taste like blood.” Nicolette shuddered in disgust. “Why?”
“Because it's fun,” Persephone said, her voice garbled around the stick that protruded from the corner of her lips. There were clicks as the candy hit her moving teeth. “You honestly haven't heard of them before?”
Nicolette shook her head.
“Merlin, Nic, you act like you were raised by Muggles or something.” Persephone shook her head.
Nicolette said nothing, only quickly put the candy back in her mouth, biting down on it almost viciously. “Ow,” she complained, as the lollipop was still too hard for any chewing. Then, as though what she was doing with it back in her mouth, she jerked it out again and wrapped in a bit of plastic.
“Want one?” Persephone offered Symone and Shiloh, making a lopsided V as she held up two lollipops.
Symone took one, as she stared at Persephone suspiciously. Shiloh shook her head. She had no appetite, especially with Valiant glaring at her as though she was treading into her territory. It annoyed Shiloh, now more than ever. She had the right to socialize with them.
“Seph, where did you get these?” Symone asked.
“From your old-as-Dumbledore Halloween stash,” Persephone replied unabashedly, taking the candy out of her mouth.
“Persephone!” scolded Symone.
“What?” Persephone asked, mocking innocence and hurt. “Don't look at me like that. It was Valiant's idea.”
“Was not!” Valiant snapped.
“Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.” The candy-thief stuck her pillaged treasure back into her mouth. “It's got to get eaten somehow.”
“True,” Symone admitted. That was the end of that, as she began to unwrap the plastic surrounding the treat.
Persephone crunched on her lollipop, breaking it into pieces that she preceded to suck on, the smaller pieces continuing to clink and rustle in her mouth like muted firecrackers. “You'll never guess the newest rumour on who people suspect to be the Heretics.”
Shiloh glanced around her discretely and warily, even though there was no harm speaking about the Heretics in the third party. Even after two weeks, everyone was talking about the Heretics, even people outside of the house of Slytherin. Some hated the 'mischievous buggers' and others were praising their prank. It was a sort of indirect fame that had Shiloh uncomfortable. She had never imagined they would have this sort of attention.
Of course, no one really knew who it was. The fact that Shiloh or Jacob might have been involved was only one of the numerous rumours being whispered around. So far, no one really suspected any of the other three girls, something Shiloh was very grateful for.
“What is it this time?” Symone asked warily. Persephone's numerous updates were getting tedious. She must have information on the 'newest' rumour at least three times a day.
“They say it Marcas Flint who, though he's playing a bad guy part very convincingly, has gone on this little vendetta, because he is secretly in love with Penelope Clearwater.”
“Oh, good God!” Valiant flopped her head back in exasperation and rolled her eyes at the ceiling.
Symone stared at her in disbelief, before taking the candy out of her mouth, to say, “And who started that ridiculous one?”
“I did, of course.” Persephone grinned proudly.
“In that case,” Symone said with a smile, “it's brilliant.”
It truly was. There was no better way to keep Flint from acting on his suspicions than to make people suspect him as well.
“Hey, munchkins.” Jacob approached from the boys dorm and leaned his arms against the back of his armchair. He lowered his head to glimpse the three who sat on the chair. Persephone and Nicolette grinned up at him, their teeth red from the candy. “How are my girls?”
“Fine,” came a chorus of replies.
Valiant only scowled and said nothing, as though knowing that she was included in his terms of affection.
“Did you hear the latest?” he asked, and then gave Persephone a wink. “Brilliant work, by the way,” he whispered so there was no chance he'd be heard over the din in the common room.
“Thank you,” Persephone replied with a smug grin.
Jacob moved around the chair and sat on the floor with his feet curled under him. Symone sat down beside him. When Shiloh didn't follow suit, he seized her arm and pulled her to him so quickly and unexpectedly that she tripped and landed on his lap.
“Sit and stay awhile,” he commanded as she scooted off him.
Finding no reason to object, though somehow she still had to bite her tongue from doing so, she folded her feet beneath her for comfort.
“When are we going to...” Persephone paused, as though thinking of the best way to say what she wanted. By the way she glanced uneasily around her, it was probably something she should be saying with so many people surrounding them. She dropped her voice into a surreptitious whisper. “Do our special hobby again?”
Jacob snorted. “Nice way to put it.”
Persephone rolled her eyes. “And the answer?”
Jacob glanced furtively at Valiant, who seeing the look and understanding it, folded her arms over her chest and locked her jaw angrily.
Seeing the silent exchange, Persephone waved her hand as though brushing off an idle piece of dust. “Don't worry about Val. She's not going to tell anyone. She supports the cause so much, she should just join us. Don't know why she won't, though.” She sent Valiant a questioning look, one arched eyebrow raised.
Valiant sighed. “Forget it. I'll sod off.” She pushed herself to her feet, her face set in anger and determination, hands pressed on her hips. “I know when I'm not welcome.”
They watched her storm off, and to Shiloh, it was like someone had suddenly let the air back into the room and she could breathe again. Valiant's grumpy atmosphere was suffocating. Persephone, however, looked as though she was sucking on an overly sour lemon drop and Symone was narrowing her eyes angrily.
“Gee, thanks, Jacob,” Persephone murmured unhappily.
“What?” he demanded, looking genuinely confused.
“You didn't have to chase her away,” snarled Symone, wiping her head about so viciously her hair snapped like whips.
She looked so angry, that Shiloh's protectiveness reared—not for Symone, but against her. It was so strange. She should be wanting to protect Symone, not protect Jacob from Symone. But she knew she was on his side on this, and she wouldn't—couldn't—stop herself from sticking up for him if it came to that.
Jacob didn't seem unnerved. He only shrugged. “I didn't say anything. Besides,” he added, glancing over his shoulder to where Valiant had disappeared, “she made her choice.”
All eyes turned to Nicolette, her eyes wide in a display of discomfort and even fear. “Don't fight. I don't like it.”
Jacob's face flushed with what was surely shame, Symone looked away guilty, and even Shiloh felt the burning of guilt. She was confused on why, however, as she had nothing to feel that way about. There was just something about the watery eyes and the sad face that made her feel like she should be guilty for something.
“Sorry,” Symone said, sounding genuinely apologetic, though whom she said it to was a mystery even to herself.
“Right, sorry,” murmured Jacob, garbling on the world as though it was a foreign word he didn't quite know the meaning of.
Nicolette chewed her lip in anxiety for a moment more. “Could you please just answer Persephone's question?” she continued at last. “I want to know when we're going to do 'our special hobby' again.”
“No time soon,” replied Jacob.
Persephone exclaimed in disappointment, “Why not?”
“Shh,” Shiloh warned as she glanced uneasily about her. Every muscle of her body felt as though she was sitting on thin ice and any moment, she could plunge in. They should be talking about this anywhere but here. With the vague words they used, there was no guarantee that anyone who was to overhear would actually understand and it would be hard to hear them, over all the noise in the crowded common room.
No one was looking at them, except perhaps for Theodore Nott, who was surveying the room. His eyes lingered on her for a moment, before he turned back to the game of wizard's chest he was playing with himself. The only other observer was Pansy, who was sending her a look twice more filled with hate than that before.
Why she had seemed more hateful—not that she had ever been a peach--lately, Shiloh hadn't understood. But for whatever reason, though the other girls seemed to be strangely bored of the games they normally played with her and Symone, ever since the day of the prank, Pansy never missed a chance for a verbal assault. She randomly throw out names like “tart” and “ugly”and “flirt”.
Shiloh had only reacted the first time to the name-calling. “You should really look up the definition of the words. You clearly don't know the meaning, because if you did, you'd know they described you. Not me. “
Pansy had growled, thrown a hairbrush at her head (and missed), and screamed, “Tramp!”
Shiloh hadn't been able to help laughing, even if Symone had looked like she might tear Pansy apart. Tramp? Her? Pansy couldn't possibly had known what that word meant.
Still despite her nastiness, Pansy was too far away to do anything but glare. There was no danger of her overhearing.
Shiloh glanced back and was surprised to see Nicolette biting her lip, not in anxiety of but moments before, but to keep her lips from shooting up her cheeks. Her gaze sparkled in delight. The look, so different from moments before, made Shiloh think of how she had so innocently been setting Jacob and Demeter together that night at the Black Lake. Had she not really been as upset as she had showed and had only acted so because she had wanted to get them to stop fighting? Shiloh didn't know for sure, didn't know if the girl who seemed so innocent only acted so to get her way, but Shiloh didn't really care. It had, after all, stopped an uncomfortable argument.
“Because it's too soon,” replied Jacob, as Shiloh tuned back into the conversation. “Give it a few more weeks.”
“In a few more weeks, it'll be Christmas,” Nicolette protested, a whine creeping into her voice.
Catching Nicolette's whine as though it was contagious, Persephone said, “And then we won't get the chance until January.”
“Shouldn't we talk about this someplace else?” asked Symone, glancing about her uneasily.
Marcus Flint had just entered the common room with his large group of friends, and his gaze automatically shifted to take in the group, filled with a dark, sizzling hate. Shiloh made a point not to look at him and cause a great deal of suspicion. Instead, she twisted about and pretended to be rifling through her bag, while watching him discretely out of the corner of her eyes. Their sworn enemy marched through the room as though he owned the place and bullied Tracy Davis and Daphne Greengrass until they scurried off the couch they were sitting on so he could take the spot.
Shiloh could feel Jacob tense in anger, and she reached a hand discretely to wrap around his wrist. He couldn't lose it over something so small. Even now, Tracy and Daphne were settling in with Shiloh's three roommates. Jacob didn't need to go give Flint a lesson in manners, no matter how badly he needed them. They couldn't stir up trouble. Not now.
Persephone quickly changed the subject to some rumours surrounding one of the Hufflepuff prefects supposedly hexing someone when he lost his temper, but Shiloh wasn't really listening. They very much needed to finish their conversation, but they couldn't with Flint glancing at them every few minutes as though waiting for them to do something that turned their involvement in the Heretics something more than just an idle rumour. But how could they get the message out?
Inspiration struck, and once again pretending to be rifling through the bag at her side, she pulled out a piece of paper and a quill that still had the remnants of ink. Making sure no one was looking, she scribbled down. We should meet in Dungeon Sixteen later. When?
They had been meeting Dungeon Sixteen often in the past weeks, exchanging ideas for pranks and whatever else they felt like talking about—classes, gossip, frivolous stuff like that.
She then folded it together, then pushed it and the quill under Jacob's hand that was sitting on his leg. He raised his eyebrow at her, then read the note. He glanced around, scribbled down something quickly, and passed it back.
When Flint sent a scowl her way, she hid the piece of paper in her fist and pretending to be using the quill to tickle the inside of Jacob's ear.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, playing his part so well he jerked away so quickly he bumped into Symone on the other side of him. He lifted his hand to tickle Shiloh's ribs and she pressed her lips together to deny the urge of giggling.
When Flint looked away, she dropped the act and read the note quickly.
After dinner. Bring the book.
The book was a diary that Jacob had bought in the Hogesmeade with the name The Heretics on it. They'd been using it to write down ideas. They had three separate categories. 'Brilliant', 'potential', and 'funny as all else' – for those ideas that were randomly thrown out as jokes and had the group in a chorus of laughter. Shiloh had been charge of keeping the book, and since she almost always carried her book bag with her, it was easy to tuck it in there and insure no roommate stumbled upon it accidentally.
Shiloh nodded at the note, though it was really to show Jacob her agreement. She tossed it discretely back into his lap and he quickly passed it to Symone. She frowned and, glancing around her, carefully unfolded it to read it. After a moment, she folded it into her fist, stood, and bent her body in a feline stretch, dropping the note onto Persephone's head as she lifted her arms above her head.
Persephone quickly tucked it beneath her knee as Flint glanced their way.
“I need to go feed Rat before dinner,” said Symone. “Want to come, Shiloh?”
Shiloh did. There was nothing she wanted more than to escape out of the range of Flint's suspicious gaze. She hurried to her feet, and she and her best friend made their way out of common room and to their room.
Once there, Symone let out a sudden giggle. Shiloh glanced at her and raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“That was too much fun. I feel like we're a top-secret organization.”
She looked exhilarated and practically skipped to grab her bag of food for Rat who was stretched out on Shiloh's pillow. When Shiloh glanced his way, almost wanting to demand why the animal was lounging on her pillow (as though it could have a concept of possession), Rat turned his beady eyes together, narrowing them in a glare. Shiloh fought the childish urge to glare back and looked away.
Jacob was already there by the time the girls arrived at Dungeon Sixteen. He'd lit a few of the torches hanging on the wall and the eerie orange light cast dancing shadows through the cool room. Five large pillows sat on the floor, situated in a circle. He sat on one of them, leaning back on his hands, legs stretched out towards the centre of the circle.
He greeted them with a smug smile and a retort of, “Took you long enough.”
“You did say after dinner,” Symone insisted, as she dropped onto one of the pillows, folding her legs underneath her. “It's not our fault you decided to come insanely early, now is it?”
Jacob mocked the sound of a cat yowling unhappily. “Did the pussy cat wake up on the wrong side of the cat bed today? Poor pussy.”
Jacob ducked as Symone heaved the pillow next to her at him.
“I'll take that as a yes,” Jacob replied with an impish grin.
Symone would have heaved another pillow, but Nicolette had just sat on it. Instead, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, flatly, “I am not going to dignify that with a response.”
“Too late, munchkin. You just did.”
Symone's face flushed and she bit her lip. Shiloh could understand the frustration that showed in her eyes. The two of them could usually come up with a well-worded response for almost anything. But Jacob had a response for their responses. He seemed dauntless when it came to the battle of words, and it was infuriating.
Shiloh retrieved her pillow from beside Jacob, where it had landed after Symone tossed it, before setting it on the ground and settling in it. Persephone was the only one left standing. She stood in front of the pillow, bouncing her weight from one foot to the next as though she couldn't possibly bear to sit still.
Jacob gave her a judging look, and she continued to shift and squirm energetically like a balloon about ready to pop.
Finally, Jacob said, “What is it, Seph?”
And just like that, the balloon exploded. “You will never believe what I heard!”
“Is Penelope Clearwater eloping with Marcus Flint?” asked Jacob, in mock excitement.
Persephone shook her head, pressing her lips together as though, if she didn't, words would spring out of their own accord.
“Then, no, I wouldn't believe it.”
“Don't interrupt!” she snapped, though it was quite rich coming from the person who loved to put commentary into everyone else's story. “These absolute prats were talking about the Heretics, and they called us a bunch of idiots just looking for attention.” She scoffed and shook her head so viciously her hair—which was now snow white and caught up in a bun of curls—lost a bobby pin. “Can you believe that?”
Nicolette looked extremely offended, her mouth gaping open, and Symone's eyes were crackling with a dim, unspoken anger. Shiloh chewed on her lip, taking it in. Looking for attention? But that wasn't it at all. How could anyone think that was it? Then again, they had never exactly planned on getting so much attention as they had. They had never stopped to make their intentions clear past the Slytherins, because they had never thought that a good deal of Hogwarts—or at least the ones who kept up with gossip—would have heard about the event and be waiting anxiously for the next one.
Jacob only shrugged, calm and unsurprised. “People are going to say what people are going to say.”
“But they shouldn't think that,” Symone said, passionately. “They should know what we stand for – that we're trying to stick up for Muggleborns, trying to do what's right.”
“It's not really any of their business, though,” offered Shiloh. “We're doing this for us. Not to receive the approval of the school.”
“But the school does know about us,” Symone insisted. “And maybe we should...I don't know.” She glanced around her as though searching for the proper words written on the stones. “Let everyone know what we stand for.”
Jacob sat up straight, pressed his hands into his thighs, and gave her a solemn look. “How do you suppose we do that? We can't exactly go preaching to all of Hogwarts without giving ourselves away.”
“And why do they need to know anyways?” Shiloh said. They were getting enough attention already. Did they really need more?
Symone eyed her from the corner of her eyes—carefully, hesitantly, almost worriedly, as though she wasn't sure if a topic they might disagree on was one she wanted to pursue. Finally, however, she turned back and began to speak. “Prejudice against Muggleborns isn't just going on in Slytherin. It's going on everywhere—in all the other houses in Hogwarts and outside of school as well. We're not the only ones facing this. We all know that.”
Shiloh did know that. But sometimes the subject seemed to difficult and so real and so oppressing that it felt as though they were the only ones dealing with it. Though it didn't feel that way, she was smart enough to know that, despite her emotions, they weren't alone with dealing with the issue. It was everywhere. But that only made her feel more alone.
“Yeah, we know,” Jacob said softly.
Persephone seemed sombre and Nicolette shifted uneasily, casting her gaze on the floor.
Symone continued, “People need to know that someone is fighting against it, because then maybe...” She paused, as though it was taking her a moment to come up with the end of the sentence.
Shiloh knew what she might be going for, because it was what Shiloh hoped too. That they weren't and wouldn't be just their small group against a much larger force. That elsewhere, others would take up arms in this war.
“Maybe they'll fight too,” finished Symone firmly.
There was silent for a long moment as they all thought over the words, drawing them around in their head as though it was a new flavour that needed a long moment to recognize.
“You're right, Symone,” Jacob said. “But once again, it's not like we can go telling everyone.”
“But we can find a way to do it subtly,” Persephone insisted, her serious look fading away quickly and turning into an excited expression. “We're Slytherin, aren't we?”
Nicolette giggled. “Yes,” she agreed. “There has to be some way.”
It seemed they were all glancing at Shiloh, as though they had been taken subtle agreements and had just been waiting for their own. But there were some thoughts she still needed to work out before she agreed to it completely, even if she believed, just like Jacob, that Symone had been correct. Others needed to be aware so they could fight too.
“Before I do this,” she began, “what about the 'don't draw attention to ourselves'?”
“Well,” said Jacob, since he had been the one saying that all along. “If we do this right, it won't be something as big and noticeable as a prank. Something small like this would be the perfect thing to keep the Conformists on their toes and Persephone from going insane from the wait.”
“All right,” agreed Shiloh.
Nicolette let out a little squeal of excitement and Persephone pumped her fist in the air. “Yes!”
“Whoa.” Jacob held up his hand to silence them. “We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves.”
“We have to decide how to do it,” Shiloh said forcefully, trying to bring seriousness back into the situation.
Suggestions began to fly so quickly, it became mind-numbing to try and comprehend who said what. Soon, Shiloh didn't even try and only listened to the ideas—noting which she liked and which were atrocious. She had a few suggestions of her own, but in the end, they settled for only one of them. They then grabbed a piece of paper and decided what their statement should include. It wasn't that hard. They all knew what they believed in.
“It needs a final touch,” Jacob said, as he eyed the piece of paper thoughtfully.
“Like what?” Nicolette asked.
“Like a picture...or...” He paused as though not sure what else to suggest. “Something to make it stand out more. To give of a face to what we really are.”
“Like a symbol?” Symone asked, pressing a finger onto the Slytherin badge on her uniform.
Jacob glanced at it briefly, then smiled. “Exactly like a symbol.”
“We used the Slytherin symbol last time,” Nicolette pointed out.
But Shiloh didn't think that worked. They had used it on the note because it would show that this was indeed directed at the house. But it couldn't be their 'face' because, though they were Slytherins, they were Heretics of the principle ideals that most people believed Slytherin stood for. And she told them all so.
“But if we use a different symbol, what should it look like?” Persephone asked excitedly, clearly liking the idea.
“I don't know,” Jacob said, and he looked at all of them, silently asking them if they had any ideas. When no one spoke out, he sighed and looked back at the sea of words on the paper. “We need an artist.” Once again, he sent them each a hopeful look.
Jacob had managed to transfer the Slytherin symbol to the paper through some spell work, but Shiloh knew enough of the spell he'd used that it could only work on existing symbols. This symbol had yet to be made. He was right; they did need an artist.
“Don't look at me,” Persephone said, holding up her hands as though to block an attack. “I'm artistic when it comes to hair.” She patted her fancy hairdo fondly, but carefully. “But the best I can do when it comes to drawing is stick figures.”
Nicolette shook her head, and so did Shiloh and Symone. None of them had artistic abilities.
“Well,” Persephone said after a moment of silence, “if you really need an artist, I do know of someone. But—“ She gave a little shake of her head. “—you wouldn't be interested.”
“No one can know, Persephone,” Shiloh insisted, but at that same moment, Symone's mouth dropped open and her face lit up with realization.
She sent Persephone a grin. “But that's the beauty of it. She does know!”
Shiloh and Jacob both frowned at them, and without speaking, demanded an explanation.
“Valiant!” Persephone and Symone said in unison.
Shiloh swallowed hard as dread worked its way down her spine. No. Anybody but her.
Jacob looked reluctant as well, and he glanced at Shiloh as though he was about to ask her opinion. She gave a small shake of her head.
“Well,” Jacob began, drawing out the word in a way that told Shiloh he wasn't going to say no. “As much as I hate to involve her, she's our only option. And you're sure she can draw?”
Shiloh swallowed and looked away. It seemed she had been outvoted.
“Yes, she's brilliant,” insisted Persephone, squirming excitedly.
“You think she'll do it?” Jacob asked.
“Puh-lease,” Persephone said, drawing out the word so that it became two syllables. “She's my best friend. She'll do it from me.” Under her breath, she added, “I hope.”
“That's very reassuring,” Jacob murmured sarcastically.
Persephone shrugged. “I can go ask her now if you want?”
Persephone sprang to her feet and raced to the door, hurrying out with Nicolette at her heels. Nicolette turned to wave to them, and then they were gone.
And the three, Shiloh, her best friend, and her...Jacob, sat there in silence for a long moment, Shiloh considering the consequences of involving Valiant. She thought of the best possible outcomes and the worst, thoughts that filled her with dread.
“She really is a good artist,” said Symone. “She's only shown me a couple of drawings, but they're wonderful.” She smiled at Shiloh reassuringly, but it faded quickly when Shiloh looked at her, because they both knew that wasn't the reason this bothered her.
“Lighten up,” said Jacob, poking a finger into her ribs. “What's the worst that can happen? She says no?”
Shiloh stared back at him blankly, knowing very well that, to her, that wasn't the worst that could happen. No, the worst that could happen was that Valiant said yes.
The worst that could happen was that Valiant became a Heretic.
“I told you I was good,” was how Persephone answered Jacob's question of Valiant's answer the next morning at breakfast. She smirked, lifted a hand, and bobbed her head, as though curtsying, even though she was sitting down.
Shiloh dragged a piece of bacon through a pile of grits, as dread threatened to take over her. She attempted to convince herself that all Valiant was doing was drawing a picture, but a touch of panic boiled somewhere deep within her, no matter how hard she tried to banish. Not even the Heretic's friendly banter that she attempted to keep up with.
“You never said that,” Jacob said, hiding a triumphant grin behind his bottle of butterbeer.
“Well, if I didn't, I meant to.”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “Ever heard of modesty?”
“Yes, but certainly not from you.”
Jacob gave a snort and covered his nose with the side of his hand as though afraid his laughter would send his butterbeer back through his nose. “I think your sister was right. I am a bad influence.”
Persephone only rolled her eyes.
“So, what's she going to draw?” Symone asked, leaning forward on her arms that rested on the table.
Persephone shrugged. “She said she had a few ideas, but all I saw was a bunch of crumbled balls of paper littering her bed.”
Of all the information Persephone could have given, that was the least promising. Shiloh heard that in Jacob's groan. It had taken Shiloh quite a few tries to write the letter for George, and that had only been a few lines, not an entire picture. She knew it would take longer than a day for her to make up a picture. But not too long, she prayed. Not long enough for her to decide she wants to join us, after all.
In fact, it wasn't soon. It wasn't a day or two or even three. And every day that went past the more anxious they became, and the more impatient Jacob was. Every day he would ask how it was coming and every day Persephone would have some witty response of how “you can't rush brilliance, so stop trying”. Shiloh, however, could tell by the way Persephone squirmed that she wasn't so sure she was being honest.
Shiloh felt hope that maybe, Valiant wasn't going to be able to complete it, but when she felt that she would feel guilty. Over the last few days, she had come to terms that they needed the drawing, and though she despised who they had to turn to, it was there only option and she couldn't do anything to jeopardise it.
On the fifth day, Jacob was in such an impatient and foul mood that the bickering between Persephone and him didn't end after only a few lines. When she'd once again informed him that the picture wasn't done, he swore and snapped, “How much longer are we going to have to wait?”
“Well,” Persephone said, raising eyebrows that had a touch of white dye in them, “isn't someone being a bit cranky this morning?” She grasped a cherry pastry and held it out. “Here, have one. It'll make you feel better.”
Jacob pushed her hand out of his face. “Just tell her to hurry up.”
“Well!” Persephone exclaimed, surprised.
Symone sat up straight, shaking her head in annoyance and sticking her chin out defiantly. “Considering that she's the one doing us a favour and not the other way around, I think Valiant can make you wait until you die and turn to dust.”
“At this point, that's very like,” he growled sourly.
His foul disposition caught Shiloh by surprise. She could understand his impatience, but he had always been one to do whatever he had to do, willingly and diligently. Now it seemed strange that he would be so bad tempered when all he had to do was wait. She frowned and studied him out of the corner of her eyes. After a moment of glaring, he sighed, his anger disappearing. He lifted a hand to his face and worked his fingers in semi-circles over his temples, the expression on his face turning into something pained.
“Are you all right?” she asked, trying not to feel worried.
He glanced over at her and jerked his head in the same rough way she did when she wanted someone to believe she was, even though she knew she wasn't. Perhaps that was why she didn't press, even though she recognized the lie. But it nagged at her, made the concern come. Suddenly, she wanted Valiant to finish up that picture just as badly as he did.
The next day Jacob, Shiloh, and Symone waited in the empty common room, already late for breakfast, for Persephone and Nicolette to arrive. When she did, nearly fifteen minutes, she approached them wearing a smile so wide it made her eyes squint. There was a skip in her step, and she dragged her Nicolette beside her, twirling them both around in one of her impromptu dances. Shiloh hoped it was a good sign and found herself holding her breath as they made their way over to them.
Jacob, too, watched her approach with an intense, unwavering gaze. No sooner had the too stopped before him, then he was demanding, “Well?”
Persephone pulled a hand out from behind her back, and holding a paper gingerly by the corner, she dangled it before his face. “Look what I've got,” she taunted.
Symone barely hid a squeal of excitement, and Shiloh felt a thrill of triumph. She stifled it carefully. After all, she had no idea if the picture was anywhere close to something they would like.
Jacob reached for it, a greedy expression on his face, but Persephone whipped it out of his reach.
“Nuh-uh.” She held the picture close, but extremely carefully, like a precious baby. “First you have to do something.”
“Seph,” he began impatiently, “it's not funny. Just give it to me.” He reached for it, but Persephone stepped back a few steps. Jacob glared, but didn't lunge again. Shiloh knew he wouldn't grab it out of her hands and risk ripping the precious paper they had waited so long for.
“No,” insisted Persephone stubbornly. “Not until you apologize about your rudeness yesterday.”
“Persephone,” he said, his voice strained, warning.
“Valiant helped us, and you were nothing but rude to her—not in person but still she deserves an apology, which I will deliver.”
Jacob scoffed. “You've got to be kidding me, Seph.” But he must have known she wasn't, for his hand was in his hair, pulling at his ends.
Shiloh watched the scene silently, unsure what she wished the outcome to be. On one hand, Jacob had been rude and impatient, but Shiloh, somehow, wanted to defend him, despite his guiltiness. She bit her lip against the silly desire. On the other hand, she immensely wanted him to apologize—even if he didn't mean it—because she wanted to see that picture.
Perhaps, he thought the same because he threw up his hands and growled, “All right. I'm sorry.”
Persephone raised her eyebrows and puckered her lips, as though to say, You can do better than that.
He stared hard for a long moment, and then his eyes drifted close. He sighed, his shoulders sagged. “Really,” he insisted, sounding sincere this time. “I haven't been feeling the greatest, but I shouldn't have snapped.”
Persephone relaxed and smiled. “Apology accepted.” Then she added, more thoughtfully, “You don't look sick.”
Shiloh glanced at him studiously. Maybe that had been what she had seen that had caused her worry yesterday. Was he becoming ill? Should she be worried? Though she knew she really shouldn't, for it was probably nothing more than a common cold, she felt a twinge of concern that she quickly brushed off.
“Perhaps you should go see Madam Pomfrey, if you're feeling so poorly?” Nicolette suggested sweetly.
“I did,” Jacob said quickly, impatience return to his voice. But not the rude sort; the sort laced with excitement. “I'm really feeling much better now. Can we see the picture?”
Persephone hesitated for a moment, then held it out like a sacrifice. Jacob took it quickly, but carefully studied it. Feeling a strange cross between excitement and dread, Shiloh leaned sideways to peer around him.
On the page, a badge – quite like that of the Slytherin – was drawn, but where the word Slytherin had once been, the name 'Heretics' were placed in bold, beautiful script. Below it, was a snake, entwined loosely around two flowers—lilacs, Shiloh thought they were—in such a way that it formed in H with the head of the snake rose between the two upward stems of the letter, fangs bared in a menacing hiss.
Persephone quickly jumped into a much-needed explanation. “Valiant said the basic design was because we are Slytherin, not some stupid Gryffindors.” When Symone raised her eyebrows and opened her mouth, Persephone held up her hands. “Her words, not mine.” Symone's eyes still gleamed unpleasantly, but she closed her mouth, allowing Persephone to continue. “The lilacs, she said, represented innocence – for the Muggleborns. And the snake is us, Slytherins protecting the innocent.”
“Your friend really does get us, doesn't she?” A grin slowly spread on Jacob's face, but he stifled it and gave Shiloh a weighing glance. “What do you think?”
“I think...” Shiloh trailed off, thinking carefully. A childish impulse welled up inside her, and for a moment, she almost said she hated it. She realized then, that some small part of her had hoped she would hate the drawing, so that she wouldn't feel she owed Valiant anything. The truth was, she adored it. “I think it's perfect.”
“Me, too,” Jacob said, allowing his wide grin to come. “So, I suppose I'll do the last bit of our part and we'll pass out everything at lunch.”
Persephone pumped her fist into the air, Symone grinned mischievously, and Nicolette giggled—the whimsical sound tainted by something more impish. Shiloh's lips pulled into a smile impulsively as a thrill shot through her—a strange thrill filled with every emotion from excitement to mischievousness to fear. It was, undoubtedly, a wonderful feeling.
And she simply couldn't wait.
By dinner, there was hardly anyone who hadn't seen the fliers, the ones that had seemed to appear as though by some amazing magic spell. They had been on bulletin boards, doors, and random corners. There had even been some stuck to a few Professor's black boards.
McGonagall had frowned at it, before asking who was responsible for it. When no one in the class knew, she had carefully tucked it away in her desk and resolved to show it to the Headmaster. Flitwik had laughed at it, not mockingly, but almost delightedly. Professor Sprout, who had found one between her pots, covered with soot, had mumbled, “Oh, my. But they are quite right, class.”
Professor Snape had crumbled it into a fist before any of his students had a chance to see. These Heretics had better be careful, he had thought. They're playing with things that only idiots would play with.
The flier was one that flared up the old gossip about the Heretics and who they were and who they stood for, and more importantly—who would support them, and who would fight against them.
It was a flier that read, beneath the emblem of the Heretics, these words:
We believe that, in this world, there is a right and there is a wrong, and wrong must be punished. No matter the consequence, we will not compromise this.
We believe that all are equal, whether we are Purebloods, Muggleborns, Halfbloods, Squibs, and etc. Prejudice and persecution of any of these races is wrong and must, therefore, be punished.
We believe that people must stand up for what they believe in, no matter if that which they believe diverges from that which society, in its majority, accepts. Even if it marks them as Heretics. So that when times of darkness come, they will be able to take a stand, say no, and do what is right—for justice, for those they love, for the hope of a better world.
We, the Heretics, stand united in these principles. Whether you support us or fight against us, we will fight for what we believe in the most.
No matter what the consequence.
And as the Great Hall hummed in their gossip, five pairs of eyes, that they could have no possible idea belonged to the Heretics, looked on in determination—in satisfaction – in amusement.
“We're simply scandalous, aren't w?” Persephone asked with a brilliant grin.
“Yes, we are,” cheered Symone, with a laugh, one that Shiloh nearly joined. “And we wouldn't have it any other way.”
Thanks to Molly and Sandy.
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